clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

In a wild college basketball landscape, Gonzaga is still a dangerous NCAA Tournament team

First round exit of Final Four? All seems possible.

NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament Championship - Gonzaga vs Saint Marys Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Considering how the previous two games went against the Saint Mary’s Gaels, it is safe to assume that no one really saw Gonzaga coming in with the WCC Tournament Championship rout—and that is basically how the year has gone as a whole, for both the good and the bad.

Gonzaga’s season-long performance consisting of some bad games and some very good games is characteristic of the college basketball landscape this year. And that, specifically, is why it is not insane to think the Zags have a perfectly fine chance to do some major damage in the NCAA Tournament.

The preseason AP top 10 featured the likes of North Carolina (No. 1), Kentucky, (No. 4 and getting first-place votes), Duke (No. 7), Creighton (No. 9), and Arkansas (No. 10). Today, UNC is not even ranked and battling for an actual NCAA Tournament berth. Duke (No. 21), Kentucky (No. 23), and Creighton (No. 24) have finally put it a little bit together but are hardly the juggernauts anyone thought they’d be.

Gonzaga is no different. The preseason No. 2 team got their butts handed to them early in the season by both Texas and Purdue in rather humbling fashions and then unexpectedly dropped a game at home to the likes of LMU. This is also the same team that essentially went on the road to defeat Alabama by 10 (a game the Zags basically controlled in their entirety) and most recently defeated the KenPom No. 11 Saint Mary’s Gaels by 26 points.

The M.O. on Gonzaga is that the defense is just average (true), the guards are inconsistent (true), and they have no real rim protection (true). Counterpoint: They own the nation’s top offense at the moment. When Selection Sunday rolls around, it might not still be the top, but it will be one of the best. That alone makes the Zags dangerous.

For those Gonzaga viewers that are not local, they haven’t heard some of the insight that local TV broadcaster (and former Zag) Richard Fox has repeated throughout the season: 1) The Zags don’t need to play elite level defense for 40 minutes to win; and 2) The Zags just need to put together stretches of defensive intensity and ride the tsunami that is the offense. And right now, that offense is absolutely cooking.

At the moment of typing this, there is only one team in the KenPom top 10 that has both a top 10 rated offense and defense: The Houston Cougars. UConn comes in close with a No. 10 offense and a No. 12 defense. No one else is remotely near that mark. That is the state of college basketball this year. There are no juggernauts. Rather, we have a wide open field of 10 teams who legitimately have a case to a Final Four or beyond depending on how the bracket is revealed.

One thing I keep thinking back to as of late is that people (Gonzaga fans), tend to harp on the Zags losses. Texas and Purdue looked very bad yes. They were also games No. 3 and No. 6 in the season. The LMU loss was bad, but hardly an outlier in college hoops. Here are a few other bad losses around the league:

  • Houston at home to No. 111 Temple, 56-55
  • Alabama away to No. 51 Oklahoma, 93-69
  • UConn at home to No. 87 St. John’s, 85-74
  • Tennessee away to No. 81 Vanderbilt, 66-65
  • Arizona away to No. 86 Stanford, 88-79
  • Marquette at home to No. 72 Wisconsin, 80-77

You don’t have to look very hard to see a lot of good teams with regrettable losses. That is just the landscape of college basketball this season. There are no dominant teams. This year, more than ever, the NCAA Tournament will be determined by who is playing the best basketball in March. Not who has played the best basketball for a majority of the year.

The Zags have two of the nation’s better scorers at creating their own points in Drew Timme and Julian Strawther. They have one of the nation’s top glue guys in WCC “Honorable Mention” Anton Watson. They have veteran guards who have consistently stepped up to take big shots in Rasir Bolton and Malachi Smith. Are they better than the Zags in 2017 or 2021? No. Do they need to be? No. The only year that matters is this year.

I’m not necessarily going to just glide Gonzaga into the Final Four like I have done in brackets of most recent years. But I will be easily talked into sliding them to the next round, and the round after that, depending on how the matchups look. It is just the state of the college basketball world at the moment, and it should make for a more wild ride in March.